Canadian Recycler to Launch Calgary’s First Plant to Wash/Recycle Contaminated Soil

Calgary Aggregate Recycling (CAR) will soon launch the first plant in Calgary to take contaminated soil and mixed soils, wash them in a closed loop recycling system, then market them as high-spec products for the construction industry. The facility, to be designed and built by wet processing expert CDE, will have capacity to recycle up to 600,000 tons of excavated material annually, reclaiming sand and aggregates to turn into asphalt, concrete or gravel.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

April 14, 2022

5 Min Read
CAR
CAR

Calgary Aggregate Recycling (CAR) will soon launch the first plant in Calgary to take contaminated soil and mixed soils, wash them in a closed-loop recycling system, then market them as high-spec products for the construction industry.

The facility, to be designed and built by wet processing expert CDE, will have the capacity to recycle up to 600,000 tons of excavated material annually, reclaiming sand and aggregates to turn into asphalt, concrete or gravel. The company estimates it will divert over 510,000 tons of soil from landfill and reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions by about 22,567 tons a year.

CAR has recycled concrete and asphalt for decades, selling products primarily as a base for roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. But this wet process technology opens up new markets while enabling sister company KLS Earthworks that does excavating to address another problem.

“As a contractor, we were trucking waste out of city limits, sometimes one or two rounds daily, traveling 200 to 300 kilometers (about 125 to 186 miles) round trip to dump. It was very expensive and inefficient,” says Travis Powell, president of Calgary Aggregate Recycling.

Trucks burned a lot of fuel, generating high carbon emissions. And tipping fees, already high, kept climbing, a deterrence tactic of landfills that don’t want this massive, difficult stream. Tip fees vary, but Calgary charges $180 a ton for the material now.

“Our goal was to build a facility to be able to dump within city limits, reducing our transportation burden, while washing material and reclaiming sand and aggregate rather than burying it in landfill,” Powell says.

The contaminated soil, designated as Class 2 nonhazardous in Alberta, as well as soil mixed with debris, will come from brownfield projects in greater Calgary.

 As in many aging cities, this waste is growing as old communities are demolished and rebuilt.

“So, brownfields are rearing their heads, and we have seen a lot get landfilled. Meanwhile, the city and province won’t take on some of these large remediation projects,” Powell says.

He points to a city-owned property that housed one of the oldest, largest, now defunct sites in Canada: Creosote, with the contamination that has spread under the Bow River to the neighboring community.

“It’s an expensive piece of land. But it leads to urban sprawl, higher property taxes, and other problems, and it has to be dealt with. This wet processing technology is tailor-made for cleaning up this liability,” Powell says.  He would like to get materials from the site, if the city and Alberta governments will clean it up.  

CAR’s new wet processing facility will operate on the same property as the existing plant where there is space and equipment. There will be a learning experience but, says Powell, “We know how to process what starts as a liability into a highly sought construction product, and we know how to sell it. We think we will be able to replace virgin aggregate.”

The government of Alberta is footing half the facility’s cost through a grant, part of its Shovel Ready Challenge to seek out bidders with technology to reduce emissions, with funding also coming from nonprofit Emissions Reduction Alberta.

The backers’ incentive is to jumpstart industry activity to reduce volumes, transportation to landfills and associated emissions.

Powell believes this new enterprise will likely turn a profit. Calgary has been in a recession, but with oil prices starting to bounce back he projects the beginning of a boom cycle.

“It’s hard to say how long it would take to get a return on investment, but the plant could potentially pay itself off in five years,” he says.

The plan is to prove the model, then look to expand in other jurisdictions, either in or outside of Canada, targeting areas where there is room for growth, which appear to be plentiful.

“I think every city has problems with contaminated soils, metals, and other construction and demolition materials. Every day our infrastructure gets older and gets demolished or reclaimed, and we need solutions to handle this volume. It’s growing, not shrinking,” Powell says.

For now, he is in talks with government, large utility companies, and large general contractors. Down the road, he thinks there could be an opportunity to mine old landfills to generate revenue from what today is seen mainly as a burden. 

The playing field in this relatively new space is wide open.

“I don’t know how many other companies would look at this. Our competitors aren’t. I think it likely takes a niche contractor like us that owns both a contracting and recycling business [to make an investment in this work].”

The wet processing plant is modeled after a New York facility, also a CDE project, that focuses on similar markets and contaminants.

“They remediated creosote with high metals. It’s very contaminated. It’s heavier than water and migrates through soil. It’s hard to process and treat, and they have been successful,” Powell says.

The process includes screening, non-ferrous metal removal, scrubbing to break clay balls and liberate lightweights, sizing sand and aggregates, dewatering the materials, attrition to clean them and remove surface contamination, flotation to float lightweights from aggregates,

and water treatment.

Says Darren Eastwood, Strategic Development director at CDE: “We are running out of virgin sand, and global demand will massively increase over the next decades. By recycling waste materials, you not only maximize the return of the investment in a wash plant, but you make your business more sustainable, contributing to a circular economy and enabling a better future for local communities.”

CDE has designed similar wet processing plants around the world to manage materials beyond what CAR is targeting, with a few being hydro-excavation waste, railway ballast, road sweepings, and gully waste.

Questions CDE most fields from prospective clients are about profit potential and their specific requirements.

Eastwood’s answers: “We work with customers to produce a return on investment document relevant to their costs and revenues, attained from gate fees and sale of recycled products.

We provide proven systems that are optimized to the particular site layout, its vehicle movements around the site, and the wider business.”

The Calgary plant is slated to be fully commissioned July 1, 2022, when it will start to reduce waste and emissions from conventional landfill methods.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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